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Itinerary recommendation 6 nights West Coast, May 2020

Hi fellow travellers!

Longtime lurker but first-time poster. I’ve enjoyed reading everybody’s stories so much that I decided to join the forum!

My partner and I are travelling to Scotland 20-27 May 2020. We will have 6,5 days, excluding the day of arrival. Since we arrive late we will stay at the airport to so we can pick up a car early next the morning. The last night we will spend in Glasgow so my partner can connect with an old college friend from Madison. We are flying from mainland Europe so there will not be any jetlag to deal with.

I am looking for recommendations for two guys (early 30s) travelling around the West Coast of Scotland. We are both avid hikers (my partner slightly more so) and I love, love, LOVE historic houses, churches etc. So far I have thought of the following itinerary:

20 arrive late, stay at Glasgow airport (already booked)
21 pick up car to drive to Inveraray or Loch Lomond
22 hike around Inveraray/Loch Lomond
23 drive to Isle of Arran, spend night at Arran
24 spend night at Arran
25 drive from Arran to Dumfries? Visit Dumfries House (morning) and Culzean Castle (afternoon)
26 drive to Glasgow, spend the night (already booked)
27 fly home

I realise that we are travelling during a very busy time of the year but I am eager to avoid crowds as much as possible. Because of the season we are hoping to lockdown accommodations as soon as possible. I am looking forward to your critiques and suggestions!

Posted by
928 posts

Hi Tiger -

I’m always a bit loathe to recommend hiking routes in the Highlands, mainly because of the way ‘hiking’ is interpreted on different sides of the pond. Generally speaking I find we Brits use ‘hiking’ to refer to a longish, rugged walk whereas my understanding - from albeit limited experience - in the US is a bit of a shorter less demanding walk.

However if staying in the Loch Lomond area the hike up Ben Lomond is a fine one, but needs to be tackled from Rowardennan on the far side of the loch - there’s a tiny passenger ferry from Tarbert, but you’d still have a fair way to walk in to Rowardennan. I’m not sure if there other ferries further down - there is a hotel there so there is road access but this starts at the foot of the Loch near Drymen.

At the top of Loch Lomond to the north west are the Arrochar Alps which feature two Munros - Ben Ime and Ben Narnain and the not-a-Munro-but-stunning Ben Arthur (The Cobbler to all and sundry). I’m afraid I have no experience in the Arrochar Alps (shame on me!) so would recommend Ralph Storer’s book ‘100 Best Routes on Scottish Mountains’ for instructions on access and routes. Of course you’ll need to be properly equipped on Scottish Hills because of the potential for extreme conditions the higher you go and carry map and compass - and know how to use them.

Storer’s book also covers Arran, but the main attraction here (although by no means the only attraction) as regards hiking is Goat Fell, the highest peak on the island. We climbed it last summer starting from the car park near the Mountain Rescue base in Brodick (large car park) and it is a straightforward if tad rugged climb, rewarded by stunning views on a clear day from the summit. For rainy days see Brodick Castle.

We also walked over Holy Island, a Buddhist retreat, accessed by tiny ferry from Lamlash (if I remember correctly) off the south east part of the main island which was an interesting day out. If shorter, flatter walks are your thing you’ll be able to choose from a plethora of walks and leaflets available on the island. There’s a good short walk on the west side of the island to the standing stones on Machrie Moor, an easy out and back stroll. Lots to see and do on Arran - we are going back again this year around May time too!

Hope you have a great trip!

Ian

Posted by
1247 posts

Scotland National Tourist Organization www.visitscotland.com has lots of useful info on the topics and locations that interest you and other things like transport and admission passes. It appears that they now have useful phone apps (like maps), too.

Posted by
2940 posts

At Glasgow Airport there are 2-3 hotels literally a stone's throw from the terminal. The Holiday Inn is excellent and the Holiday Inn Express is not bad (a little cheaper). I think there's one more but have not stayed there.

When you pick up your rental car, ask the agent (the person in the parking lot who puts you into your car) which signs to follow at the roundabouts leaving the airport campus to get onto the Motorway headed north to the Erskine Bridge and Loch Lomond. The signage is not self-explanatory, IMO. If you find yourself on the Motorway headed toward Glasgow, you're going the wrong way (the airport is in Paisley, nearer to the bridge than is Glasgow).

If you want to take a boat ride on the loch, Cruise Loch Lomond has multiple options. We took a short cruise out of Luss and enjoyed it very much; they also go out of Tarbet. You can use the boats like a HoHo bus, get off and hike and catch another boat back from a different stop (but, obviously, be mindful of the schedule!). I believe there's another company, Sweeney's Cruises, that also operates on Loch Lomond.

In Inveraray I can recommend Brambles for lodging and daytime food, and the George Hotel for dinner and pub. Inveraray Castle is beautiful inside and out, and in May the gardens will be gorgeous. Since you want to hike, consider the Auchindrain Township outdoor museum. I believe their property has several miles of trails, extending up to Loch Awe.
https://www.auchindrain.org.uk/about-auchindrain/

You can also go horseback riding at Argyll Adventure, with an equestrian path along the shore of Loch Fyne.

Posted by
67 posts

Thanks everyone for your input and ideas!

@Ian ideally a hike should take up a good part of the day - I am a bit lazy but my partner would live outside if he could! I have been told that Loch Lomond is very touristy - is this true? If we go I will definitely follow your advice and I am going to order Storer’s book! On Arran I want to visit both Brodick and Goat Fell - how long did that hike take you?

@Kathleen thank you for the link I’ve visited their site before but despite the beautiful photography I found it confusing to navigate… but I did not know about the phone app so will definitely have a look at this too!

@epltd we are staying at the Holiday Inn! Good to know you liked it. I haven’t decided yet if we are staying in Loch Lomond or Inveraray - I would love to see the castle there but my partner might kill me if I make him do too many historic houses :-D I am glad to hear there are some hiking opportunities nearby though.

@wurundjeri - good to know! I was hoping to visit Dumlanrig but it is closed unfortunately - so I would like to do Culzean Castleg (especially because of the Adams interiors) - if there’s time I might try to see this impressive ruin though!

Thanks again everybody! Keep your suggestions coming :-)

Posted by
928 posts

Hi again Tiger -

Loch Lomond is the first highland Loch you encounter when going north from Glasgow so, yes, it can be a bit busy and ‘touristy’. That said the further north you go the quieter it will be I think. I’m not sure how many folk will venture up the east side. The West Highland Way hugs the eastern shore - it is a low altitude route, but surprisingly taxing - the trail is very popular so there will be people on that route at the time you are going. I’m not sure how many venture up Ben Lomond either but you are rarely alone on a major Munro and the Ben is the nearest Munro to Glasgow, so I’d guess there’d be a fair few.

That said, when we climbed Goat Fell we hardly saw a soul all day. A footpath repair gang was working near the top, but that was it and on a good day in the height of summer too. Our walk took up most of the day. We didn’t retrace our steps from the summit but took in North Goat Fell (a bit scramble-y here and there) and from here our group of four split into two twos. Our friends went further on dropping off ‘The Bastion’ as it is named on OS maps, (VERY steep) down to Sannox. Julie and I headed down the Glen that runs down to Corrie further south on the east coast. Both pairs of us had cocked up the bus timetables and faced long waits for the next bus. We decided to walk back, but the road is busy and we turned off right through forest on the Arran Coastal Path to go back to Brodick. We’d given our one OS map to our friends as they were going further but fortunately Julie had loaded the relevant maps onto her phone and we navigated by that (when we could get a signal!) as the path is not plentifully signed. Once back in Brodick we jumped in our car (fortunately we’d taken both cars) and went to rescue our chums from the Sannox bus shelter! There’s nothing much in the way of hotels, cafes or bars in either Sannox or Corrie, although we did subsequently discover the nearby Sannox Golf Club does do refreshments for passers by! By the time we’d done all that the day was pretty much over, so it was, bar dinner, a full day excursion.

Hope this gives you some ideas!

Ian

PS. I have yet to climb to the summit of the marvellous Cir Mhor on Arran, but it is definitely on my ‘to do’ list!

Posted by
67 posts

Thanks Ian for this additional information. We are now also thinking about spending time in Glencoe instead of Inveraray. We'll figure things out soon hopefully and get back to you.

Posted by
928 posts

Hi Tiger -

Glencoe is brilliant, lots of fantastic hiking there. However accommodation is sparse in the actual valley itself. I’m heading up there in March and staying at the SYHA hostel (there are two hostels close together the other one is an independent hostel). There may also be accommodation at the Clachaig Inn (I’m only there for the beer and the odd meal usually) and the odd B&B in the village of Glencoe itself.

If unsuccessful in and around the Glen, try a bit further down at Ballachulish or beyond there at Onich.

Faced with a choice I’d be going for Glencoe over Inveraray ninety-nine times out of a hundred, but then I’m lured by the hills. If you have a copy of the Storer book as previously discussed, that will give you plenty of routes in Glencoe too.

Ian

Posted by
5184 posts

I have to admit, I am not a Loch Lomond fan. Perhaps I had too high of expectations after all the hype? I found it was pretty much just a lake like several I could visit in the course of a day drive from where I live. We walked a portion of the path and utilized the ferries as well. Afterwards, both my sister and I agreed we wish we had spent the time elsewhere.

We did really enjoy Oban, and taking the three island tour out to Mull, Iona, and Staffa. The puffins on Staffa were a special treat. I would choose Oban over Loch Lomond every time.

Posted by
15 posts

The area around Loch Lomond is beautiful, but if you just walk around the loch itself, I think you would be a bit disappointed. We really enjoyed our hike up Conic Hill as well as walking trails near Benmore Botanic Gardens (Puck’s Glen is the most popular one). walkhighlands.co.uk is a great resource if you don’t already know about it. Enjoy!

Posted by
956 posts

Hi, tigerbull1986,

If you're driving to Arran from the Loch Lomond area on the 23rd., there are nine ferries throughout the day. The last one leaves at 10:00 p.m., so if you're planning to catch the last ferry, you should definitely make a reservation.

The easiest way to get to Ardrossan from the Loch Lomond area is to take the Erskine Bridge, then take the M8 toward Greenock. It ends and becomes the A8, which you'll follow around the coast until it becomes the A78. The A78 will take you right in to Ardrossan.

If you haven't already made accommodation arrangements for Arran, I can recommend the Glenartney in Brodick. Very nice guest house, with wonderful hosts. If you have time, a circular tour of the Arran coastline would be well worth your time. Once you leave Whiting Bay, it's pretty much single track roads with passing places all the way round to Lochranza. Lochranza Castle is worthwhile as well, and it's free!

You probably will want to visit Culzean Castle before heading off to Dumfries, as Culzean is on the coast, not too far south of Ardrossan, and Dumfries is considerably farther south, and inland.

Dumfries to Glasgow, via the M74, is a little over two hours.

I concur with those suggesting a climb of Ben Lomond from Rowardennan, which is on the eastern side of the loch. It's the southernmost of the Munros, and possibly the easiest. There are great views of the loch from the summit. If you're both in good shape, it's about five hours up and back via the tourist route. However, if time is a priority, you could alternatively park at Rowardennan and hike part of the West Highland Way.

If you decide to visit Inverary instead of Loch Lomond, or if you decide to visit Inverary after Loch Lomond, you can approach Arran via the Claonaig to Lochranza ferry. That ferry doesn't take reservations - you just show up at the ferry slip, and hope that you can get on the next one out. The last ferry across to Lochranza leaves at 7:00 p.m. Don't miss it! Claonaig is easily reached from Inverary by taking the A83 south to Kennacraig, then the B8001 to the ferry.

Best wishes for your adventures!

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
67 posts

Thanks for all the helpful recommendations. I'm hoping to book sooner rather than later but I am waiting for Storer's guidebook to arrive first to figure out more. I'll get back once the itinerary is done. Thanks again!

Posted by
67 posts

Hi everybody,

Thanks to everyone for their recommendations and knowledgeable input!

In the end we are going to spending one night (21 Feb) on Arran, arriving (hopefully) early to do venture up Goatfell. The next day we drive to Newton Stewart where we will be staying in a small lodge in the middle of Glen for 4 nights (22-25 Feb). We felt this was the most reasonable option in terms of finance (cooking our own meals etc.) and not wasting too much time travelling to different hotels. We are now looking at things to do in the area - and hopefully include Dumfries House somewhere on the way back to Glasgow.

Posted by
928 posts

If you are now going in February the weather might not be suitable for hikes into the hills. I saw a You Tube film yesterday of a small avalanche in Glencoe for instance! Make sure you are properly equipped and seek guidance if in doubt!

Other than that, have a great time!

Ian

Posted by
67 posts

Hello I don't know why I said February I meant May! I am clearly in need of a holiday...